September 12, 2011

Our Stories: They Marched to the Sea

In the fall of 2006, the Gauchos got off to a 7-6 start and head coach Tim Vom Steeg was just one loss away from benching his seniors and using the rest of the season as a rebuilding year.

Instead of folding, UCSB began an incredible turnaround and won five of its final six regular season contests to capture the Big West crown and qualify for the postseason.

Once the unseeded Gauchos entered the NCAA Tournament, they were unstoppable. UCSB downed San Diego State, No. 1 ranked SMU, Old Dominion and Northwestern to advance to its second College Cup appearance in three years.

Heading into St. Louis as the clear underdogs, the Gauchos battled through 110 scoreless minutes against Wake Forest in the semifinal match before winning the decisive penalty kick shootout, 4-3.

UCSB was then pitted against Southern California foe UCLA in the National Championship game. Prior to that December 3 meeting, the Gauchos had defeated UCLA just once in 32 meetings. The Bruins, who were playing for what could be their school’s 100thnational title, were facing a school that had won just one national championship – a 1979 men’s water polo crown.

On a bitter cold Midwest day, the Gauchos brought the sunshine and took the early lead in just the third minute. UCSB captured the national title with a 2-1 win over the Bruins.

Celebrations erupted 2,000 miles away in Isla Vista as students stormed Harder Stadium and carried the goal posts to the beach before throwing them into the ocean.